National Small Business Week Interview: Verizon

Verizon reaches out to small businessesEvery small business knows the name Verizon as a provider of technology products and services. But have you considered Verizon as a resource for small business advice, educational tools, Facebook apps, webinars featuring leading small business experts and authors, and website building help? Those are some of the services they provide online, and for two years in a row, Verizon’s website has been ranked by Compass Intelligence.com as the number one resource for small businesses.

Yahoo! Small Business Advisor caught up with the Verizon managers leading that initiative: Chief Small Business Advocate, Mary Yarbrough, who has responsibility for the small business segment at Verizon and her colleague Mark Adams, Director, Small Business Marketing, who is responsible for marketing online and offline as well as digital assets and social media assets for Mary’s team. They spoke with us by phone from Verizon’s Basking Ridge, NJ, offices for this exclusive interview.

How important do you think small businesses are to the economy?

Mary Yarbrough: Small businesses are creating about 75 percent of new jobs in the U.S. today, so they are growing despite three years of some pretty tough economic times.

But the other measure of the importance of small businesses to the economy is that they are responsible for 50 percent of information technology spending in the U.S. There are about 27 million small businesses in the U.S. today. Every one of them is using some level of I.T. and we provide LANs and wireless hookups and low-end security capabilities for their offices. Verizon works with about 70 percent of the small businesses in our footprint, so we’re thrilled that they really are back in a growth mode. It’s been a couple years coming!

What are the three most important skills or traits a small business owner needs to succeed?

Mark Adams: Verizon interviewed about 1,500 small business owners in the last 12 months, and they had several traits in common.

Number one is passion. Small business owners absolutely love what they do. They live their business 24/7/365 and, frankly, they don’t mind. This is not really a job for them, from what we gathered.

Second, they also really want to bring something new and different to the market. They see themselves as unique, and the reason they’re successful is because they are unique. Even if it’s a product or service you already have, a small business owner feels that their personal stamp gives them a unique opportunity to bring something new to the market.

Third, small business owners are always looking for new and different ways to get more customers and make more money. Whether they want to stay small or become the next Steve Jobs, they’re always looking for ways to get customers and grow revenue.

What single piece of advice would you give to a struggling small business owner?

Mark: Everyone’s always looking to save money, to improve the bottom line. One or two generations ago, it was a small business owner’s job description to find new customers. With today’s technology it’s a lot cheaper and less of a burden to help customers find you. Whether it’s through the smartphone or social media assets, these new technologies and apps can be significantly more cost effective than traditional marketing, such as direct mail.

Embracing technology also simplifies the customer’s experience. Getting more access to your business and enabling your customers to shop online and contact you online or through a Facebook page are things business owners can do when they have the right technology. Having the fastest Internet connection and a reliable wireline and wireless phone service, being able to take payments in-store or on-the-go, and having a presence online and on social media can really improve a small business’s margins and make them more money.

As the number one provider of voice and data to small businesses in the areas we serve, Verizon is able to support small businesses and get them online to find those customers. We offer products with Intuit for webhosting, web listings, and creating a website. Small business owners want to focus on running their business, not worrying about running their technology, so the reliable services we provide are paramount to them.

In the current economy, what should a small business owner be focusing on in order to succeed?

Mary: We are out talking to customers and we’re hearing that they’re focused on the things that we think they should be: They’ve got to work smarter—they really don’t have any more hours; they are trying to get more efficient in holding down expenses; and they are spending more time finding new markets and new customers.

When we go to small business seminars around the country, if there is a breakout session on how to use web sites, web listings, your web presence, Facebook, or Twitter to be seen, be known, and find customers, that session is packed to standing room only. Companies are very interested in how to use the web to be successful, even though only half of them have websites.

To help small businesses find new markets and customers, we offer free webinars on technology, marketing tips and tactics on our website, a professional networking forum that anyone can join, and a new Facebook app called WeCommerce that is like a Match.com for businesses, in that it allows businesses to partner up to land new business together. WeCommerce was recently launched in beta and it will be fully launched in June.

The small business market is so diverse and decentralized, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of small businesses across the country?

Mary: We mentioned the survey we did of 1,500 customers. That’s one of our opportunities to understand what small businesses need from us. We also interact with 15,000 small business customers in our call center every single day. They are not shy. They’re fighting for themselves, they have a staff of one or two, and they really count on us to guide them on decisions they are making about broadband and how to set up their office and website listings.

Do you have a special message to small businesses in recognition of National Small Business Week?

Mark: We’re saluting the 27 million-plus small business owners that week in a few ways. Three small businesses were front-and-center in our advertising campaign last year—a clothing store in Long Island; a hair salon and personal makeup artist in NJ; and a florist in NY. For Small Business Week this year we’re checking in with them to see where they are a year later and to see how they’re using Verizon products and services to make their businesses more successful.

We’re also doing book giveaways on our Facebook  and Twitter  pages. And we will be promoting our extensive archive of webinars, on topics like duct tape marketing and how to use Google+, which are available to any one, not just Verizon customers, at any time.

What do you hear small businesses asking for that isn’t being supplied today?

Mary: In a single word, it’s “help.” When small businesses don’t know how to solve a problem, they’re looking for help. We’re able to be a one-stop for answering their communication and entertainment questions.

They’re using our website more and more. Every three months we’re improving our technology to put more on that website for them to help themselves. We’re trying to be there to be a support mechanism and our intention is to continue to add resources.

How does your company help small businesses and why?

Mark: We’ve had a recurring theme here: technology, leveraging that technology, and knowing what you need for your small business. Verizon offers 4G wireless, wireline phone, data, and even television options for businesses like bars and doctors' and dentists’ offices. And we offer a lot of education opportunities for customers and non-customers through blogs and free webinars. We also provide our customers with discounts on services they use every day, which helps their bottom line, such as FedEx, Office Max, and Verizon Wireless services to give them an opportunity to use the 4G network. 

In addition, we provide access to business-trained specialists. These are reps and technical support people who live and breathe business-related products and services all day long. When our customers call in they know they’re talking with someone who understands the question and how to solve it.

Given the fact that small businesses are a growth engine for the U.S. economy right now, we want them to be wildly successful. We feel like it’s a true partnership. If they’re successful, we’re successful.

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